The Ninja – from Japanese history to Hollywood

Way back in feudal Japan, the ninja clans were a renowned and feared organization that specialized in covert operations and mercenary work including everything from espionage to deception and ambush attacks. They were renowned throughout Japan and China has some of the best and most mysterious warriors, so it’s no wonder that when film was invented they became the perfect subject matter for interesting and action-packed stories. 

The real history

Despite what one might think about ancient ninjas, historical accounts are scarce and as such the majority of what we think we know about ninjas has been formed through popular media. The title of ninja became popular during the 15th century but some records have descriptions of ninjas dating as far back as the 4th century. The earliest accounts tell the story of a prince called Yamato Takeru who disguised himself as a maiden in order to assassinate two chiefs of the Kumaso people. 

The Ninja – from Japanese history to Hollywood

The 15th century was the height of the ninja clans in Japan. They were specially trained to seamlessly fit in worth the populace in order to come close to their targets. There are accounts of ninjas being hired by emperors and warlords to protect their families and would spend months at a time dressed and acting as gardeners to protect their employers. 

Ninjas were often trained at secluded monasteries located in the mountains where they learned everything from espionage to survival skills and were expected to be ready to adapt to almost any situation. Assassination and protection were the most common reasons why they were hired, sometimes entire clans for the protection of a few individuals. They were also responsible for inventing many psychological warfare techniques as well as physical weapons that have become synonymous with their organization. Some of which include shurikens, smoke and ash bombs, and a smaller version of the Katana, called the Ninjato, which was designed specifically to combat Samurai during the night in close quarters combat.

In media

Because of the advent of film technology, it was only a matter of time before these mysterious warriors got their time in the spotlight. The first recorded film was released in 1912 and was called “Jiraiya Goketsu Monogatari”, and since then many films about ninja life, clans, and individuals have been made since then. These first films were silent and in full black and white. It was also during this time that filmmakers who did not have a lot of information about the Ninja would exaggerate and make up their own stories, often focusing heavily on the ninja’s prowess in combat and less so in their roles as spies and agents of espionage. As technology improved over time other forms of filmmaking such as animation and anime would be heavily influenced by the history of the ninjas.

In Hollywood 

The first ninja based movie that was made in America was called the “Killer Elite” and was released in 1975 in both English and Mandarin. Since then the idea of the Ninja has permeated almost every other form of media including comic book heroes, books, parody films, professional documentaries, video games, and many more. Some of the more popular films that have been released include the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and G.I. Joe, amongst others. They became so popular in America that it is safe to say almost everyone knows what a ninja is.

The Ninja – from Japanese history to Hollywood

Today, ninjas and their influence can be found in almost every type of entertainment media, and they have come a long way in shaping how we see real ninjas of the past, even if it may be somewhat inaccurate. As more films are made about ninjas every year  their legacy will surely continue into the future to come. 

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